Ringleader in Dungeon Case To Serve Life

The woman accused of locking mentally disabled adults in her basement was sentenced to life in prison Thursday. NBC10’s Doug Shimell reports with more on the trial. (Published Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015)

The woman who pleaded guilty to keeping adults with mental disabilities locked in a Philadelphia basement will spend life plus 80 years in prison, a federal judge ruled on Thursday.

At the sentencing hearing for 55-year-old Linda Weston, Judge Cynthia Rufe told the defendant in a courtroom at Philadelphia's federal courthouse, "Your acts were unconscionable. You are evil."

Rufe added, "Ironically, in prison you will get three meals a day and medical and psychological services... something you didn't do for your captives."

Weston pleaded guilty to murder and other charges in September in order to avoid a possible death sentence. Weston entered the plea to all 196 counts against her, which also include kidnapping, racketeering conspiracy, murder in aid of racketeering, hate crimes, sex trafficking and fraud.

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Authorities said Weston used "cunning, trickery, force and coercion" to get mentally disabled people to designate her as their caretaker, allowing her to illegally collect about $212,000 in Social Security payments over 10 years.

They said Weston, her daughter and three others confined the victims like "zoo animals," often in the dark, in basements, attics and closets at various times between 2001 and 2011. Two women she pleaded guilty to holding captive later died.

Several of Weston's victims — who eventually totaled six disabled adults and four children — gave impact statements in court Thursday morning before Weston was to be formally sentenced for her crimes.

"I forgive you," Tamara Breeden told Weston. "I don't like what you did to me. I hope you stay in jail for a long time."

Herbert Knowles, another victim, echoed Breeden's desire to see Weston and her accomplices serve lengthy prison sentences.

"You are evil and done a bad job on me," Drwin McLemire, a third victim, said in court. "I'm trying to get over this and get this part behind me."

The victims were often sedated with drugs in their food and drink, sometimes deprived of food and medical care and forced to use buckets for bathrooms, authorities say.

"When the individuals tried to escape, stole food, or otherwise protested their treatment, Weston and others punished them by slapping, punching, kicking, stabbing, burning and hitting them with closed hands, belts, sticks, bats and hammers or other objects, including the butt of a pistol," prosecutors alleged.

Weston has been in custody since October 2011, when a landlord found four adults locked in a squalid boiler room of a home in the Tacony section of northeast Philadelphia and called police. One man was found chained to a boiler.

Prosecutors said Weston forced two women into prostitution to earn more money for the family when they lived in Texas and Florida.

Linda Weston Photo U.S. Attorney's Office

After her plea, Weston appeared to have a change of heart as she wrote a memo asking the court to change her guilty plea to not guilty and hold a competency hearing to evaluate her mental health, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

"I hereby request a motion to withdraw my plea of guilty on the above case immediately and change my plea to not guilty," Weston wrote in a letter obtained by NBC10. "I hereby request a motion for a competency hearing to evaluate my mental health. I feel I was pushed by my attorneys to plead guilty and I do not understand what occurred that day. I have expressed that many times to my attorneys and they have ignored my pleas for assistance."

But on Thursday, a judge accepted Weston's plea as some of her victims spoke out about the horrors they lived through.

Weston apologized in court, adding, "I believe in God and God knows what happened."

Two other defendants have pleaded guilty in the case and two others are awaiting trial.